Friday, February 24, 2006

Group shots

Eye candy (of the four-legged variety)

(Thank you, Iztok!)

Cover-up in Germany?

"A government report cleared the German secret service of charges that it helped the U.S. military during the Iraq war, but opposition leaders counter a giant cover-up is in effect.


The report is provided entirely by the government; most of its contents stay classified and the opposition is not able to talk about the findings or hear witnesses. This explains why the opposition, mainly the Left Party and the Greens, feel betrayed.

One lawmaker from the Left Party stormed out of the meeting, arguing he felt the government was knowingly misleading the panel."

Read more about the report, which also deals with possible German government complicity in the abduction of Khaled el-Masri, here.

Craig Murray's blog is always worth a visit. Currently he's posting a lot about the heinous practice of rendition, and helping to expose the Blair government's participation in it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I've been tagged

Right about the same time bird flu hit Slovenia, I got "tagged" by the dreaded meme, thanks to Lilit. Of the two, I suppose the meme is preferable to H5N1. So here's my little spiel:

4 jobs that I’ve had
- whacking the heads off Atka mackerel (to collect the otoliths for later analysis in the NMFS lab in Seattle) aboard a Soviet fisheries research vessel in the Gulf of Alaska
- doing yard work and house/pet-sitting in Grosse Pointe, Michigan for Frankie Dietz (Frankie Edith [Dietz] Kerouac-Parker), who had been briefly married to Jack Kerouac in 1944-45
- working as a waitress in a fancy-shmancy French restaurant in Headington, Oxford, England. On my third day at work I came in with a huge shiner acquired during a weekend rugby match. I was not asked back. Pity. The pay sucked, but the free lunches were good.
- teaching pronunciation to international students in the ESL program at University of Iowa, and borrowing a group of students from Mrs. Johnson’s fifth-grade social studies classes at the local elementary school every Friday, so the ESL students could talk with native speakers and the fifth-graders could learn about other cultures and languages.

4 films I could watch again and again

- A League of their Own
- West Side Story
- House of Sand and Fog
- The Full Monty (especially the last scene…)

4 places I have lived
- in a student dorm in (then) Leningrad, (then) USSR
- in a mountain hostel on Planina na Uskovnici, Slovenia as a "brigadirka"
- in a berth on a (barely) floating factory trawler ship (the "Akademik Berg") in the Gulf of Alaska
-in a box stall converted into a studio apartment in a horse barn in Woodinville, Washington. Free rent in exchange for work. My window overlooked the manure heap I lovingly tended every day.

4 TV-series I like(d) to watch

- Desperate Housewives (okay, I admit it)
- The Daily Show (does that count as a series?)
- drawing a blank here. I don’t watch much TV.
- drawing another blank. I’ve met one of the stars of “Naša mala klinika” (and his dog), but I don’t watch the show. Can I get partial credit?

4 places I have been on vacation to (more or less recently:)
- Portoroz, Slovenia
- Columbus, Ohio (for the American Quarter Horse Congress)
- Bohinj, Slovenia
- Ajdovscina, Slovenia (agility training is like a vacation for me)

4 websites I visit every day
- Left I on the News
- Whatever It Is I’m Against It

4 books
- Correcting the Landscape, Marjorie Kowalski Cole
- The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout
- Living with Bears: A Large European Carnivore in a Shrinking World, Boris Kryštufek, Božidor Flajšman and Huw I. Griffiths
- Utopistics, or Historical Choices of the Twenty-first Century, Immanuel Wallerstein

4 favorite dishes

- beer
- chocolate
- anything I don’t have to cook myself
- a free lunch

4 places where I'd like to be right now
- from there to
- here and
- here to
- there

And now I am supposed to tag four more people, but virtually all the bloggers I know personally have already done this. So, casting about desperately for candidates, I’m tagging

- Lyra
- my Ara EFL students (who according to classroom rules are allowed to tell all kinds of wildly imaginative whoppers so long as they do so in English)
- Red Tailed Hawk
- Natural Explorer

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The most important right of all

… is apparently the right of governments to lie about their actions to their citizens.

Bob Herbert had a great op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times on the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was kidnapped by U.S. authorities at Kennedy Airport in 2002 and “rendered” to Syria (full text accessible only to subscribers, lengthy excerpts available here). After enduring ten months of interrogation and unspeakable torture, he was released without being charged. With the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Arar brought a lawsuit against former attorney general John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials who were responsible.

The lawsuit was dimissed last week. One of the reasons given by Judge David Trager, apparently with a straight face, was this:

“One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar's removal to Syria.”

Well, no, we can’t have that, can we—Heaven forfend that certain high-ranking government officials be caught out in a lie. As Herbert enthuses, “Oh yes, by all means, we need the federal courts to fully protect the right of public officials to lie to their constituents.”

So, it will be interesting to see if German officials receive the same sort of protection. Today’s New York Times reports on the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen vacationing in Macedonia who was abducted by local authorities acting on the instructions of the Americans ("We consider the Americans as our partners," a senior Macedonian official said. "We cannot refuse them.") He was detained in Macedonia for 23 days before being shipped to an American prison in Afghanistan for rough interrogation over the next five months. He was then released, with no charges filed.

The German government claims to have been kept in the dark about the whole affair until after el-Masri's release (sort of like the Poles and Romanians deny having any knowledge of the secret CIA prisons operating in their national territories). “But on Monday in Neu-Ulm near Munich, the police and prosecutors opened an investigation into whether Germany served as a silent partner of the United States in the abduction of the man.”

The Times, incidentally, while reporting in some depth on the story of what happened to el-Masri, glosses over the details of his “release,” but you can read more in the Guardian article of a couple of months ago. He was reportedly just dumped, blindfolded and without any money, explanation, or apology, in the mountainous forest along the Albanian border, close to Serbia and Macedonia, and expected to find his own way out.

Or not. Probably the Americans were hoping he’d just die and rot there, and the embarrassing evidence of their “mistake” would conveniently disappear.

I’ll be interested to see where this investigation leads.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Much ado about nothing

"Much of the discussion about Iran's nuclear program is quite simply hysterical," says Immanuel Wallerstein. "The reason that the United States in particular is so agitated about Iran's potential nuclear armament is that the spread of nuclear weapons to so-called middle countries clearly reduces the military strength of the United States. But that doesn't mean that it threatens the peace of the world."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"Have you been in a coma the past sixty years?"

This morning I got the latest issue of William Blum's "Anti-Empire Report", which I've been subscribing to for a while. Blum is the author of several carefully researched books detailing the facts on American intervention abroad. Until last month he was relatively obscure. Then Osama bin Laden quoted some key lines from "Rogue State" in his latest video message, and Blum became a celebrity overnight, featured on page one of major newspapers which in the past would not even print his letters to the editor.

Below is Blum's account of the experience. I'm reprinting it in full and encourage people to visit his website and subscribe to his newsletter (instructions provided at the end of the article).

The Anti-Empire Report
Some things you need to know before the world ends

February 14, 2006
by William Blum

How I spent my 15 minutes of fame
In case you don't know, on January 19 the latest audiotape from Osama bin Laden was released and in it he declared: "If you [Americans] are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you. And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book ‛Rogue State', which states in its introduction ... " He then goes on to quote the opening of a paragraph I wrote (which appears actually in the Foreword of the British edition only, that was later translated to Arabic), which in full reads:
"If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize -- very publicly and very sincerely -- to all the widows and the orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. I would then announce that America’s global interventions -- including the awful bombings -- have come to an end. And I would inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the union but -– oddly enough -– a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims and repair the damage from the many American bombings and invasions. There would be more than enough money. Do you know what one year of the US military budget is equal to? One year. It’s equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.
"That’s what I’d do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I’d be assassinated."
Within hours I was swamped by the media and soon appeared on many of the leading TV shows, dozens of radio programs, with long profiles in the Washington Post, and elsewhere. In the previous ten years the Post had declined to print a single one of my letters, most of which had pointed out errors in their foreign news coverage. Now my photo was on page one.
Much of the media wanted me to say that I was repulsed by bin Laden's "endorsement". I did not say I was repulsed because I was not. After a couple of days of interviews I got my reply together and it usually went something like this:
"There are two elements involved here: On the one hand, I totally despise any kind of religious fundamentalism and the societies spawned by such, like the Taliban in Afghanistan. On the other hand, I'm a member of a movement which has the very ambitious goal of slowing down, if not stopping, the American Empire, to keep it from continuing to go round the world doing things like bombings, invasions, overthrowing governments, and torture. To have any success, we need to reach the American people with our message. And to reach the American people we need to have access to the mass media. What has just happened has given me the opportunity to reach millions of people I would otherwise never reach. Why should I not be glad about that? How could I let such an opportunity go to waste?"
Celebrity -- modern civilization's highest cultural achievement -- is a peculiar phenomenon. It really isn't worth anything unless you do something with it.
The callers into the programs I was on, and sometimes the host, in addition to numerous emails, repeated two main arguments against me. (1) Where else but in the United States could I have the freedom to say what I was saying on national media?
Besides their profound ignorance in not knowing of scores of countries with at least equal freedom of speech (particularly since September 11), what they are saying in effect is that I should be so grateful for my freedom of speech that I should show my gratitude by not exercising that freedom. If they're not saying that, they're not saying anything.
(2) America has always done marvelous things for the world, from the Marshall Plan and defeating communism and the Taliban to rebuilding destroyed countries and freeing Iraq.
I have dealt with these myths and misconceptions previously; like sub-atomic particles, they behave differently when observed. For example, in last month's report I pointed out in detail that "destroyed countries" were usually destroyed by American bombs; and America did not rebuild them. As to the Taliban, the United States overthrew a secular, women's-rights government in Afghanistan, which led to the Taliban coming to power; so the US can hardly be honored for ousting the Taliban a decade later, replacing it with an American occupation, an American puppet president, assorted warlords, and women chained.
But try to explain all these fine points in the minute or so one has on radio or TV. However, I think I somehow managed to squeeze in a lot of information and thoughts new to the American psyche.
Some hosts and many callers were clearly pained to hear me say that anti-American terrorists are retaliating against the harm done to their countries by US foreign policy, and are not just evil, mindless, madmen from another planet.[1] Many of them assumed, with lots of certainty and no good reason at all, that I was a supporter of the Democratic Party and they proceeded to attack Bill Clinton. When I pointed out that I was no fan at all of the Democrats or Clinton, they were usually confused into silence for a few moments before seamlessly jumping to some other piece of nonsense. They do not know that an entire alternative world exists above and beyond the Republicans and Democrats.
Just recently we have been hearing and reading comments in the American media about how hopelessly backward and violent were those Muslims protesting the Danish cartoons, carrying signs calling for the beheading of those that insult Islam. But a caller to a radio program I was on said I "should be taken care of", and one of the hundreds of nasty emails I received began: "Death to you and your family."
One of my personal favorite moments: On an AM radio program in Pennsylvania, discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The host (with anguish in her voice): "What has Israel ever done to the Palestinians?"
Me: "Have you been in a coma the past 20 years?"
This is a question I could ask many of those who interrogated me the past few weeks. Actually, 60 years would be more appropriate.

Elections my teacher never told me about

Americans are all taught from childhood on of the significance and sanctity of free elections: You can't have the thing called "democracy" without the thing called "free elections". And when you have the thing called free elections it's virtually synonymous with having the thing called democracy. And who were we taught was the greatest champion of free elections anywhere in the world? Why, our very same teacher, God's country, the good ol' US of A.
But what was God's country actually doing all those years we were absorbing and swearing by this message? God's country was actually interfering in free elections in every corner of the known world; seriously so.
The latest example is the recent elections in Palestine, where the US Agency for International Development (AID) poured in some two million dollars (a huge amount in that impoverished area) to try to tilt the election to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its political wing, Fatah, and prevent the radical Islamic group Hamas from taking power. The money was spent on various social programs and events to increase the popularity of the PA; the projects bore no evidence of US involvement and did not fall within the definitions of traditional development work. In addition, the United States funded many newspaper advertisements publicizing these projects in the name of the PA, with no mention of AID.
"Public outreach is integrated into the design of each project to highlight the role of the P.A. in meeting citizens needs," said a progress report on the projects. "The plan is to have events running every day of the coming week, beginning 13 January, such that there is a constant stream of announcements and public outreach about positive happenings all over Palestinian areas in the critical week before the elections."
Under the rules of the Palestinian election system, campaigns and candidates were prohibited from accepting money from foreign sources.[2] American law explicitly forbids the same in US elections.
Since Hamas won the election, the United States has made it clear that it does not recognize the election as any kind of victory for democracy and that it has no intention of having normal diplomatic relations with the Hamas government. (Israel has adopted a similar attitude, but it should not be forgotten that Israel funded and supported the emergence of Hamas in Gaza during its early days, hoping that it would challenge the Palestine Liberation Organization as well as Palestinian leftist elements.)
By my count, there have been more than 30 instances of gross Washington interference in foreign elections since the end of World War II -- from Italy in 1948 and the Philippines and Lebanon in the 1950s, to Nicaragua, Bolivia and Slovakia in the 2000s -- most of them carried out in an even more flagrant manner than the Palestinian example.[3] Some of the techniques employed have been used in the United States itself as our electoral system, once the object of much national and international pride, has slid inexorably from "one person, one vote", to "one dollar, one vote".

Coming soon to a country (or city) near you

On January 13 the United States of America, in its shocking and awesome wisdom, saw fit to fly an unmanned Predator aircraft over a remote village in the sovereign nation of Pakistan and fire a Hellfire missile into a residential compound in an attempt to kill some "bad guys". Several houses were incinerated, 18 people were killed, including an unknown number of "bad guys"; reports since then give every indication that the unknown number is as low as zero, al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, the principal target, not being amongst them. Outrage is still being expressed in Pakistan. In the United States the reaction in the Senate typified the American outrage:
"We apologize, but I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again" said Sen. John McCain of Arizona
"It's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" said Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana.
"My information is that this strike was clearly justified by the intelligence," said Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi.[4]
Similar US attacks using such drones and missiles have angered citizens and political leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. In has not been uncommon for the destruction to be so complete that it is impossible to establish who was killed, or even how many people. Amnesty International has lodged complaints with the Busheviks following each suspected Predator strike. A UN report in the wake of the 2002 strike in Yemen called it "an alarming precedent [and] a clear case of extrajudicial killing" in violation of international laws and treaties.[5]
Can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a house in Paris or London or Ottawa because they suspected that high-ranking al Qaeda members were present there? Even if the US knew of their presence for an absolute fact, and not just speculation as in the Predator cases mentioned above? Well, most likely not, but can we put anything past Swaggering- Superarrogant-Superpower-Cowboys-on-steroids? After all, they've already done it to their own, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On May 13, 1985, a bomb dropped by a police helicopter burned down an entire block, some 60 homes destroyed, 11 dead, including several small children. The police, the mayor’s office, and the FBI were all involved in this effort to evict an organization called MOVE from the house they lived in.
The victims were all black of course. So let's rephrase the question. Can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a residential area of Beverly Hills or the upper east side of Manhattan? Stay tuned.

"The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Milan Kundera
I'm occasionally taken to task for being so negative about the United States role in the world. Why do you keep looking for all the negative stuff and tear down the positive? I'm asked.
Well, it's a nasty job, but someone has to do it. Besides, for each negative piece I'm paid $500 by al Qaeda. And the publicity given to my books by Osama ... priceless.
The new documentary film by Eugene Jarecki, "Why We Fight", which won the Sundance Festival's Grand Jury prize, relates how the pursuit of profit by arms merchants and other US corporations has fueled America's post-World War II wars a lot more than any love of freedom and democracy. The unlikely hero of the film is Dwight Eisenhower, whose famous warning about the dangers of the "military-industrial complex" is the film's principal motif.
Here is Jarecki being interviewed by the Washington Post:
Post: Why did you make "Why We Fight?"
Jarecki: The simple answer: Eisenhower. He caught me off-guard. He seemed to have so much to say about our contemporary society and our general tilt towards militarism. ... The voices in Washington and the media have become so shrill. ... It seemed important to bring a little gray hair into the mix.
Post: How would you classify your politics? You've been accused of being a lefty.
Jarecki: I'm a radical centrist. ... If Dwight Eisenhower is a lefty, I am too. Then I'll walk with Ike.[6] [ellipses in original]
Isn't it nice that a film portraying the seamier side of the military-industrial complex is receiving such popular attention? And that we are able to look fondly upon an American president? How long has that been? Well, here I go again.
Eisenhower, regardless of what he said as he was leaving the presidency, was hardly an obstacle to American militarism or corporate imperialism. During his eight years in office, the United States intervened in every corner of the world, overthrowing the governments of Iran, Guatemala, Laos, the Congo, and British Guiana, and attempting to do the same in Costa Rica, Syria, Egypt, and Indonesia, as well as laying the military and political groundwork for the coming Indochinese holocaust.
Eisenhower's moralistically overbearing Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, summed up the administration's world outlook thusly: "For us there are two sorts of people in the world: there are those who are Christians and support free enterprise and there are the others."[7]

[1] See my essay on this subject at:
[2] Washington Post, January 22 and 24, 2006
[3] Rogue State, chapter 18, includes the text of the US law prohibiting foreign contributions to US elections.
[4] Associated Press, January 15, 2006
[5] Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2006
[6] Washington Post, February 12, 2006, p.N3
[7] Roger Morgan, "The United States and West Germany, 1945-1973" (1974), p.54

William Blum is the author of:
Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire

Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.
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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy Darwin Day

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Charles Darwin was born on this day in 1809. His theory of evolution by means of natural selection, presented in The Origin of Species in 1859, has stood the test of time and is a central organizing principle for our knowledge of the biological sciences.

It is also, sadly and unbelievably, a theory rejected by a majority of Americans.

The stubborn ignorance and anti-scientific mindset of large segments of the American public was one of several factors that drove me to emigrate permanently from the United States. Others were the atrocities and war crimes systematically committed as part of U.S. foreign policy, the deplorable and worsening state of the health care system, and sprawl . No doubt these topics and more will surface periodically as and if this blog develops.

Today, in honor of Charles Darwin's birthday, I post two commentaries written in the summer of 2004, shortly after I left the U.S. for Slovenia:

America’s Taliban

(Broadcast in Slovene translation on Radio Student Ljubljana, August 5, 2004)

Against my better judgment, I recently spent some time residing in Bush’s America. Long enough to conclude that it’s not a place I’d want to stay permanently or bring up my Slovenia-born daughter in. There are many reasons why I feel this way, but perhaps one of the most compelling is the influence of religious fundamentalists on American society, education, and politics.

Here’s just one illustrative example. One day last January my sixth-grade daughter came home from her Indiana school angry, frustrated and upset. She had come under attack in a classroom discussion for arguing a radical and unpopular point of view. And just what was all the controversy about? The Iraq war, perhaps, or Bush’s presidency? No, it was about the theory of evolution. The teacher had told the kids she didn’t believe in evolution, favoring instead a literal interpretation of Genesis. My daughter defended Darwin, citing the fossil record, especially hominid finds. Most of the kids sided with the teacher, and harangued my daughter for days afterwards in an attempt to persuade her of the error of her ways. “But it says so right in the Bible!” they kept repeating.

When I recounted this incident to a scientist friend of mine in Slovenia, he wittily, if unkindly, suggested that we ask this same teacher whether she also refused to believe in the general theory of gravitation, which is as anti-Biblical as evolution. If so, he proposed, she should prove her faith by jumping out an upper-story window. I rather liked his suggestion, but my daughter decided not to act on it—the school she attended was situated entirely at ground level.

Shortly after this incident Kathy Cox, the Republican superintendent of schools in Georgia, proposed banning the word “evolution” from the K-12 biology curriculum, replacing it with the phrase “change over time.” Evolution, she said, was a “buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction” among devout Georgia families because it was associated with “that monkeys to man sort of thing.” After an onslaught of withering criticism from university professors, the National Science Teachers Association, and former President Jimmy Carter, among others, Cox and her crusaders eventually backed down. But no one should expect the creationists in Georgia or anywhere else to remain idle for long. They may be ignorant, but they are doggedly persevering.

My late mother Betty McCollister, herself a free-lance journalist, clashed frequently with creationists and others from the religious right, particularly during the Reagan administration. After the incident at my daughter’s school, I dug around in some of her archives and came across a letter from an Iowa biology professor in praise of her recent article on evolution. He introduced himself as “an evolutionary biologist who tried to ignore creationists in the hope they would disappear. Now I know better and am starting to enter the fray.”

That letter was dated February 23, 1985. As you can see, the creationists still haven’t disappeared.

Given my daughter’s experience, I began to wonder whether Indiana’s schools were in fact any safer than Georgia’s from this creationist claptrap. After speaking with the head of the biology department at Harrison High School, whose district we were living in at the time, I was somewhat, though not entirely, reassured. I doubted whether any Indiana teacher would be so bold as to declare that humans descended from ape-like ancestors—you know, “that monkeys to man sort of thing”—but, should Monika enroll at Harrison, she would at least be taught the basic principles of evolution, as required by the Indiana state educational standards for biology. However, if we ended up buying a house closer to the Purdue campus, as was my husband’s wish, our daughter would attend not Harrison, but West Lafayette High School.

There were two biology teachers there. One, a woman, was well-educated, normal, and taught evolution. The other was an avowed creationist who went around giving “creation science” workshops to religious gatherings in his spare time. At West Lafayette High he taught Honors Biology—in other words, he got the brightest kids with the greatest scientific aptitude, many of them no doubt the offspring of some of Purdue University’s top scientists and engineers. Although by law he was not permitted to discuss religious topics in a public school classroom, it was hard to imagine that the topic of evolution as the central organizing principle in the biological sciences would be taught as it should be by someone who, counter to all the accumulated scientific evidence, believed that the Earth is 6000 years old and that some Christian deity created humans and all other species in their present immutable forms in six days.

Of course, the irony in all this is that the vast majority of American religious groups do not oppose the teaching of evolution. A book called “Voices for Evolution,” published by the National Center for Science Education (and edited, by the way, by my mother), contains statement after statement from hundreds of mainstream religious organizations and authorities, including the Pope, affirming that the scientific theory of evolution is not in conflict with religious faith. It’s only the extremists—America’s version of the Taliban—who hold such rigid and anti-scientific views.

My mother battled the religious right for years, and was frequently the target of some decidedly un-Christian attacks as a result. I often wondered why she was bothering to pay so much attention to an obviously lunatic fringe that no normal thinking person could possibly take seriously.

I’ve learned a thing or two since then. It’s true that these people are a lunatic fringe, far outside the mainstream. Alarmingly, their power is nonetheless far-reaching and pervasive, extending from the elementary school classroom right on up to the Oval Office of George Bush, Jr. The right-wing fundamentalist Christian lobby shapes not only much of what goes on in American biology classrooms, but many other aspects of American policy as well.

Moving towards theocracy

(Broadcast in Slovene translation on Radio Student Ljubljana, Thursday, September 9, 2004)

Tom Delay would be shocked and horrified by what my daughter and thousands of other Slovene schoolchildren are learning. The other day I took a closer look at her 7th grade biology textbook. Right there, in black and white, very last chapter, plainly stated—modern humans evolved from ape-like ancestors, who in turn derived from earlier, more primitive life forms. Horrors! What kind of radical, heretical, pernicious garbage are Slovene educators feeding our innocent children?

We can expect a massive outbreak of violence among Slovene schoolchildren once they have absorbed the implications of this knowledge. Tom DeLay, you see, believes that the Columbine school shootings occurred “because our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial mud.” Just for good measure, he laid additional blame on contraception and the provision of day care for the children of working parents.

According to DeLay’s logic, then, Slovene schools should be experiencing an ongoing series of murderous rampages, since Slovene women enjoy unrestricted access to a range of contraceptive methods, including abortion, virtually all Slovene toddlers attend day care, and Slovene schoolchildren learn that they are descended from apes. Presumably other developed European countries with roughly similar educational and social policies should also be swept by this wave of adolescent violence. Funny, though, how the phenomenon of school shootings seems to have originated in, and be largely confined to, America.

Who is Tom DeLay, anyway, and why should anyone care what he thinks? As it happens, Tom DeLay is the House majority leader, and one of the most powerful men in America. He is a Christian zealot who openly declares himself sent by God to “stand up for a biblical worldview.” He says that he seeks a “God-centered” nation that, among other things, would discriminate against homosexuals, limit contraception, ban abortion, abolish the separation of church and state, and post the Ten Commandments in every school.

Delay’s is the true face of today’s ruling Republican Party, which has been effectively taken over by an extremist faction known variously as “social (or religious) conservatives,” “the religious right,” or, by its detractors, “America’s Taliban.” Spiritually, they’re born-again evangelical Christians, inclined to a very rigid, literal interpretation of the Bible (including Genesis, which is why they find the theory of evolution so threatening to their children’s souls). Politically, they’re theocrats, which means they want to impose their extremist beliefs on the rest of us by codifying them in law and policy. And they’re damn close to achieving their goals.

White House staffers regularly meet with Christian fundamentalists to solicit their views on social policies such as gay marriage, faith-based initiatives, and abstinence-only sex education. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who insisted on covering up statues at the Department of Justice which were too scantily clad for his prudish sensibilities, is a devout Christian who holds daily prayer meetings with his staff and had himself anointed with cooking oil before being sworn into office. (Perhaps coincidentally, he is also a zealous persecutor of Muslims, whether or not they have broken the law.) Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council's top Middle East aide, consults with apocalyptic Christians—those who are eagerly waiting for the second coming of Christ and the ensuing “Rapture” to occur, and hence implacably opposed to the establishment of any kind of Palestinian homeland —on U.S. policy towards Israel. General William “Jerry” Boykin, the Bible-thumping crank who said Bush “was appointed by God” and has preached that the United States is in a holy war as a Christian nation battling Satan, was appointed deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence last fall, and has since been implicated in the torture scandals at Abu Ghraib and other American-run prisons.

President Bush is himself a born-again Christian, and has a large following among the estimated 19 million Americans who are religious conservatives. Bush regularly invokes his faith in public speeches, speaking in messianistic and crusading terms of good and evil. Moreover, he is apparently convinced that he knows God’s will: “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East,” he has said. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he proclaimed that “America is called to lead the cause of freedom in the new century....Freedom is not America's gift to the world. It is the Almighty God's gift.”

In Bush’s case, it’s hard to say how much of his rhetoric and his policies stem from sincere religious belief, and how much from Karl Rove’s power-obsessed politically calculating advice: Evangelicals represent a powerful grassroots force and voting constituency in American politics. But whatever Bush’s true motives, the dismal end results are the same. And not just for Americans, but for other planetary inhabitants as well, from the dead and maimed Iraqis who are the beneficiaries of the Almighty God’s gift of freedom as delivered at the hands of American occupiers, to the Palestinians who must remain forever homeless since a Palestinian state conflicts with the Rapture scenario of American Christian Zionists, to the women and children of the Third World who are suffering from the Bush administration’s cutoff of funds to the United Nations Population Fund for the third year running. Experts have estimated that the $34 million from the United States could prevent two million unwanted pregnancies per year, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths, but American social conservatives have succeeded in blocking funding on the grounds that the family planning programs it supports provide abortions and do not take an abstinence-only approach to female reproductive health.

Which brings us back to the American school classroom. There, too, the social conservatives are pushing an abstinence-only approach to sex education—despite all the evidence, from the world statistics compiled by the UN Population Fund to a study published in the British Medical Journal, that abstinence training actually increases the rate of teen pregnancy.

With Bush’s theocratic administration poised to win a second term, it looks like my (teenaged!) daughter and I escaped to a more advanced and civilized part of the world just in time.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Pilger on Blair on Iran

Listen to Blair in the House of Commons: "It's important we send a signal of strength" against a regime that has "forsaken diplomacy" and is "exporting terrorism" and "flouting its international obligations". Coming from one who has exported terrorism to Iran's neighbour, scandalously reneged on Britain's most sacred international obligations and forsaken diplomacy for brute force, these are Alice-through-the-looking-glass words.

Read it here.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Aussie outing

On Saturday a bunch of aussie enthusiasts in Slovenia—a small but growing group—hiked with our dogs up the Krnica valley near Kranjska Gora. It was about an hour and a half of gentle uphill walking, the first part in sun and paralleling the course of the Pišnica, to the mountain hut Koča pri Krnici, then back out again by the same route in reverse.

I admit I had my doubts about leaving the warm and sunny Karst for the cold North—we lost the sun to dreary fog from about Postojna onwards, and it didn't re-emerge until just before Kranjska Gora. But it was a glorious day out. Cerulean sky, sparkling white snow, mountain views, and romping aussies in every direction. Plus a couple of border collies, an Airedale, and a St. Bernard (have I left anyone out?). The snow cover in the mountains around Kranjska Gora is unusually heavy this year, about 2 meters in depth, but the trail to the hut is well-packed, well-groomed, wide, and easy to hike. People walk and ski its length, and supplies are brought in to the hut by snowmobile. I've hiked this trail before, but never before in winter, and never before with dogs. Exuberance notwithstanding, the dogs mostly behaved themselves in the presence of other hikers, and seemed to be more a source of enjoyment and target of admiration than a nuisance for the people we encountered.

Photos of the outing available here, here, and over at Tina's blog.

More photos of the Julian Alps (in summer) here.

Friday, February 03, 2006

More scenes from Lexi's life

Meet Lexi

Lexi lives with her human James in Minnesota. Her main passion is herding, but when the sheep are in the barn, she's ready to tackle the snow.